West Kootenay Friends of Refugees brings Afghan family home safely before Christmas

Rossland members go well beyond the call of duty in helping Ashrafi family settle in Trail

After a nine month Odyssey, the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees helped the Ashrafi family settle in Greater Trail. (Contributed)

After a nine month Odyssey, the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees helped the Ashrafi family settle in Greater Trail. (Contributed)

Rossland members of the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees (WKFoR) rallied to rescue an Afghan family stranded in a variety of Canadian airports over the holidays.

Despite weather warnings and travel restrictions, WKFoR members Kathy Moore and Tim Peacock drove to Vancouver on Dec. 21 to pick up Maluf and Nilofar Ashrafi and daughters Sophya (age 3) and Bushra (14 months) from the airport.

“We looked at the dismal weather forecast and realized the only possible window of opportunity was to drive to Vancouver on the 21st and drive back on the 22nd,” said Moore. “It was not without its challenges but Tim Peacock and I decided to go for it.”

The Odyssey for the Ashrafi family began in April. Amid the growing tyranny of the Taliban regime, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) helped the Ashrafi family escape Afghanistan to a camp in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The human rights group soon engaged WKFoR to sponsor the family and help plan their exit strategy.

“We responded immediately and enthusiastically,” said WKFoR member Jill Peacock. “JHR has helped many journalists like Maluf, who believe in free speech and who use their profession to advocate for human rights, to escape the Taliban.”

On Dec. 15, the Ashrafi’s finally caught a flight from Islamabad to Toronto. There they were met by Canadian immigration staff and transferred to an airport hotel for four days while the clear Kootenay skies gradually vanished and the weather forecast turned grim.

As soon as WKFoR volunteers heard about the four-day layover, they asked that the arrival airport be changed to either Cranbrook or Kelowna to make a successful landing more likely. However, flexibility apparently isn’t immigration’s strong suit and they refused to change the bookings.

“The International Office for Migration and Immigration Canada work on travel arrangements, and have no idea about what it is like flying to the Kootenays … especially in winter, and over the holidays,” said Peacock.

On Dec. 20, the family was scheduled to fly from Toronto to Vancouver and then on to Castlegar, but that didn’t happen because of the severe storm. Instead, they were rerouted to Edmonton.

The Ashrafis boarded a flight to Vancouver the following evening, but immigration couldn’t book an ongoing flight to Castlegar until the 23rd, when the next heavy snow storm was set to hit.

“It was that night that we decided to make the trip to rescue them,” said Peacock. “Kathy and Tim were amazing.”

Along the way they counted 33 cars in the ditch, but were somewhat confident given the size of Tim’s large pick-up truck, which could hold all six of them as well as the family’s luggage.

Despite a five hour flight delay, and another two hour wait for luggage, they were relieved to have the family in B.C. and spent the night in Langley before heading east to the West Kootenay.

When the group finally arrived in Greater Trail, there was a sense of “relief, joy, excitement that their new life could begin in safety, gratitude for Canada, exhaustion!” added Moore.

In a letter to the JHR, Maluf thanked the organization for their efforts and to all who made their new life possible.

As I write this letter now, I feel very strange and I don’t know how to thank you.

You saved the life of a family that has seen so much loss. Suicide attacks carried out by ISIS and Taliban took the lives of two dear members of our family. And my parents continue to live in fear under Taliban rule.

A few hours ago, I received a message from my niece: “The Taliban did not allow me go to my language class.”

Like her, millions of girls are prevented from studying by the Taliban.

Because you saved the life of my family, I know at least the fate of my wife and daughters will be different. They can build futures for themselves that all women deserve.

My family and I are grateful for your support. We (can’t) thank you enough for helping us to get to Canada and begin a new life.

Our best holiday wishes,

Maluf, Nilofar, Sophia & Bushra

As for the next step in the lives of the Ashrafis, both Maluf and Nilofar are hoping to secure employment and will soon be in need of a more permanent home/residence.

Both are well educated, Maluf an experienced journalist, and Nilofar has her Masters degree in Gender Studies.

WKFoR is assisting the Ashrafi family by paying their expenses with no government assistance.

To assist in finding residency for the family or to make a donation contact or e-Transfer funds to wkforfunds@gmail.com. Please include your mailing address in the message if you would like a tax receipt.

asylum refugeesCity of TrailRossland